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  Dogs and Homeowner’s Insurance  
  by Cindy Parroné |  

Dogs have been family members for centuries, but recent trends in homeowner’s liability claims are changing the way homeowner’s insurance is sold. If you recently shopped for property insurance of any type, you were asked, “Do you have any animals?” If you answered yes, the agent probably wanted to know what type. If you mentioned a dog, they wanted to know what breed. “Why does that matter?” you may ask.

One-third of homeowner’s insurance claims are related to dog liability, according to the Insurance Information Institute. While most of these losses are dog bites, harm also comes to people who are knocked down by a dog. The Center for Disease Control indicates that 4.7 million people are bitten each year by dogs, and half of those are children. About 800,000 victims need medical attention, while an average of 16 cases annually result in a fatality. Illinois has the distinction of ranking #2 in the U.S.A. in terms of annual dog bite numbers. When you realize that the cost of the average dog bite claim increased by 67% between 2003 and 2014 to $32,072, it becomes obvious why insurance companies want to limit their exposure to dog liability claims.

How the insurance companies are dealing with this situation may limit your homeowner’s insurance options. Many carriers have started to deny or limit coverage if you own a certain breed or your dog is a mix of a certain breed. These breeds vary from company to company, but they are based on dog bite fatality statistics. DogsBite.org lists the following analysis of dog bite fatalities between the years 2005 and 2012:

  • Pit bull: 60%
  • Rottweiler: 13%
  • Husky: 4%
  • Mixed Breed: 4%
  • American Bulldog: 3.6%
  • German Shepherd: 3.6%
  • Mastiff/Bullmastiff: 3%
  • Boxer: 2%
  • Malamute: 1.6%
  • Labrador: 1.6%

Don’t dismiss these figures because they must all be up in Chicago. The Williamson County Animal Control sees about 80 dog bite cases per year. Some companies have decided that they will not insure the home at all if a certain dog breed is a household resident. Other carriers may require you to sign an exclusion for dog bite liability if you own a particular type of dog. Others may not offer any type of liability on the homeowner policy if a suspect breed is owned. The insurance company may be willing to give you liability coverage, but they are going to surcharge for the exposure, costing you more money.

So now that you know that dog ownership is an underwriting issue, and you are concerned that your dog might be on the prohibited list, you still need to be honest with your insurance agent. If you intentionally fail to disclose that you own a dog, that is considered misrepresentation and will result in a claim being denied if it does happen. Your policy will also be cancelled or not renewed, and you have become uninsurable (sometimes even if you get rid of the dog). Agents are being asked to “interview the dog,” and property inspectors look for signs that a dog is owned when they conduct their inspections. Are you feeling that your dog is being wrongly discriminated against? I feel your pain. I own a German Shepherd, who is my best friend, but I have learned some ways to reduce the dog bite risk.

Precautions you need to take if you are a dog owner:

  1. Educate yourself about dog breeds that would be suitable for your family and neighborhood.
  2. Spend time with the animal before you buy or adopt the dog and bring it home.
  3. Do NOT leave a baby or young child alone with a dog.
  4. Socialize your dog, so it becomes comfortable under more circumstances.
  5. Use caution when exposing your dog to a new situation.
  6. Teach your children how to behave around dogs.
  • Don’t bother an animal when it is eating or sleeping.
  • Don’t tease animals.
  • Don’t approach a chained dog.
  • Don’t run and scream if you are approached by a loose dog.
  • Avoid making eye contact with a strange dog if it looks threatening.
  • Don’t approach a mother dog with puppies.


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